Minnesota State Parks to Visit for Late Season Leaf Peeping

Miss the peak colors of the North Shore? Don’t worry, Lake Superior isn’t the only place to go ‘Leaf Peeping.’ Take a look down South! These parks can still scratch that autumn itch without the long drive north.

Within 1 Hour of the Twin Cities

1. Wild River State Park: Stunning trails along the St. Croix river, through prairie grasses and forests of mixed tree species. Keep the camaras ready, while visiting this park. We happened to cross paths with deer, hawks, and eagles. For great river views, check out the Old Military Road Trail and Walter F. Mondale River Trail. While hiking along the rivers edge, keep an eye out for beavers and otters.

2. Interstate State Park: Dramatic cliffs, pot-holes, unique landscape, stunning leaves, and a plethora of activities. Can’t really miss with this park. While there is a lack of mileage for hiking (just 4 miles in the park) the trails make up for distance with rugged terrain. Rock climbing, boat tours, canoeing/kayaking, and overlooks are other ways to enjoying the leaves in this park.

**Pro-tip: Arrive early at this park. Due to it’s awesome features this park fills up fast, get an early start to avoid the crowds and land a parking space.

3. William O’Brian State Park: William O’Brian State Park is home to a variety of views. The 12 miles of hiking trails will take you to prairie overlooks, oak covered hills and to riverside scenery. Majority of the trails are not by the rivers edge. If hiking doesn’t quite sate that autumn wanderlust, hop in a canoe and paddle your way to satisfying autumn bliss. Watch for waterfowl and beavers along your way.

4. Afton State Park: 20 miles of hiking trails cover prairie restoration, creeks, rivers edge, wooded hills and ravines. This park also has 5 miles of horse trails and 4 miles of paved biked trails. Along the waters edge, birdwatcher can glimpse the waterfowl and raptors.

5. Lake Maria State Park: The previous 4 parks mentioned lie east of the Twin Cities. Lake Maria rests an hour to the west. This park has a different feel to it. More “off the beaten path”. The old growth forest changes the hue of the forest floor and adds a mystical edge to the air. The hiking trails lead to numerous small lakes and tranquil ponds giving chance to come across the rare Blanding’s Turtle. If you prefer birds to reptiles, then keep your sights on the 200+ birds species that live in or pass through the park.

Within 2 Hours of Twin Cities

1. Minneopa State Park: Minneopa is one of the few parks in Minnesota to host a bison herd. Catch these beauties in the autumn colors. Not only does Minneopa have majestic beasts, it is also home to a double waterfall. Be warned, the waterfall is more of a water trickle at this time of the year, but it is still beautiful! The parks only holds about 4.5 miles of hiking, but there is also the Bison Drive. This Bison Drive is a road that goes through the bison enclosure. Stay in your vehicle!!

2. Whitewater State Park: For majestic views that compare to the North Shore, head to Whitewater. With drastic elevation changes on trail, you’ll catch some incredible overlooks. With this park’s 10 miles of hiking trials, you’ll pass along rivers edge, bluffs, and deep ravines. This is a park you don’t want to miss this fall and it doesn’t take a trip to the North Shore to see it.

3. Charles A. Lindbergh State Park: If you are looking to miss the crowds of the busier parks, check out this little park. The 7 miles of well maintained trails will lead you through a variety of colors, over streams, and the open space of a meadow. Up the road from the main park lies a little sections called Little Elk, this area holds a short trail along the Mississippi River.

4. Banning State Park: The beauty of this park is astonishing. Taking the Quarry loop to Hell’s Gate Trail passes along the Kettle River, passed the old ruins, and to a section of falls. The burnt orange and yellow leaves falling over the ruins and falls make for a picturesque scene. With 17 miles of trails and adventure, this has become one of my favorites.

It’s not too late to get your leaf peeping in. The North Shore isn’t the only gorgeous place in the state to see autumn’s glory. Get your hiking shoes and hit the trails before the autumns leaves decorate the forest floor.

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